Setalite City, 10:45 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
The crowds were thick enough that making his way out of the main stretch could have been his daily workout on its own. The crowds would be around the city until midnight before they started to head home. The bars, nightclubs, and restaurants certainly appreciated the increase in business.
His phone blipped.
He glanced at it before frowning and rereading the news alert several times; there had been a large explosion in the middle of Arrot City, which decimated several city blocks of buildings. Reports were coming in rapidly as more and more people uploaded videos to the internet.
Loren put his phone back in his pocket the first time he saw a picture of a body, and the nauseous feeling from earlier came back. Mark’s missing legs flashed through his mind, and he shook his head to rid himself of the sight. The great cheer gained from spending time with a pretty woman vanished in an instant.
Loren’s Apartment Building, 1:01 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Loren stopped on the landing and watched the landlord hammering on his door for a moment.
“Loren!” Peter called, “I know you’re in there!”
“I’m right here, actually,” Loren said, annoyed. “What do you want, Peter?”
Peter spun around, paused for barely a moment before he kept talking as if he had been hiding inside.
“Ducking me all day, huh?” Peter said harshly. “Rent’s due!”
“I already paid rent last week,” Loren said immediately, and he had.
“Bullshit!” Peter scowled. “You’re two weeks overdue! You better pay up today, or I’m kicking your—”
“No,” Loren said clearly, “I paid last week, and I’m two weeks ahead—I have the rent receipts to prove it, go bother someone else.”
Peter stormed past him without another word as soon as the word ‘receipts’ had passed his lips. Loren didn’t give the man another moment’s thought as he unlocked his apartment door and stepped inside.
Loren was frowning, though; he’d overheard almost that exact conversation with multiple residents over the last couple of months, although this was the first time Peter had tried it on him.
Before today, he had just assumed that the other renters in the building sucked and were terrible at handling money, but now he wasn’t so sure. Peter had blatantly lied and had only backed down when he said he had proof.
Loren had heard several times from Ms. Tenor—a woman who lived on the first floor—that some of the residents here paid in cash. If that was the case with any of the others Peter had attempted this shit on, they might not have had any way to prove that they had paid. He wondered if this was something he should be reporting to someone. Who did you go to about something like this? The police?
He’d look it up on the internet later.
Loren’s Apartment, 2:06 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Loren stared at the ceiling in disbelief, at the sound of Peter having the exact same argument, only with his upstairs neighbor; even muffled, the voices were clearly audible.
“You know I paid already!” his neighbor shouted. “You do this every fucking week!”
“Because you never pay on time!” Peter shouted back, bulling over her objections. “You’re three weeks overdue already!”
“I’m telling you I already—” she tried again.
“I’ve given you another week already! Just get out already!” Peter shouted. “Pack your shit and go!”
“No!” his neighbor shouted back, “I’ll pay for one more fucking week, but that’s it! If you try this again, I’m calling the cops!”
“I’ll be calling them to get you the fuck out of here!” Peter shouted back. “This is my fucking building, lady!”
“Just—take the money and fuck off!” his neighbor hissed.
The sound of a door slamming shut rang out, and Loren could hear the man grumbling as he passed by his door.
“Yeah,” Loren murmured tiredly. “I’m definitely reporting you, asshole.”
He’d barely gotten any sleep last night after what had happened, and between listening to his neighbor cry herself to sleep, all he wanted to do was sleep…
Loren’s Apartment, 6:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
The sound of something clanging loudly outside his bedroom window woke him up. Loren realized that someone was climbing up the fire escape around the same time he realized he had slept pretty much the entire day away and ruined his sleep schedule.
Loren stumbled over to the window and stuck his head out, looking up to see a pair of thick black shoes and a flicker of what might have been blonde hair disappear over the ledge. He wondered for a moment if he should be worried that his neighbor was climbing up onto the building in the middle of the night.
“You better not be planning on jumping off, idiot,” Loren sighed before pulling his head back in.
Loren’s Apartment, 7:37 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Loren idly listened to the news as he practiced for the tournament tomorrow.
“Wrightway has been in a series of scandals this past few months, following a string of accidents, and now we are getting reports of their office building downtown being the target of an arson,” the aged man said sternly. “We’ve got feet on the ground near the building; this is live footage, folks.”
The scene changed to show the twenty-story building on fire. Black smoke cascaded out of the windows and filled the air.
“The fire was reported less than fifteen minutes ago!” the woman at the scene said tersely. “The conflagration has already taken the bottom four floors entirely and is steadily moving upwards. We have already received confirmation that there was nobody inside.”
The camera panned over to show several fire trucks lined up at the base of the building.
“Emergency services are already on the scene, and many heroes have been spotted assisting—there’s one now, it’s—Raindancer!” the reporter said firmly. “Good, a hero with known powers relating to water, this should be dealt with before it gets too much further out of hand.”
“What the hell is going on this year?” Loren said, feeling almost exhausted with it all. “Last year, nothing like this happened during the festival. It’s like the whole world has gone crazy—oh you fuck—you got me killed!”
Loren slumped back in his seat, annoyed, fucking arsonist.
Loren’s Apartment, 1:12 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
He’d given up on practicing an hour ago, as he finally started growing tired again; he was currently just staring up at his newly replaced lightbulb, waiting for sleep to take him. His attempt was interrupted by more clunking noises on the fire escape.
Loren frowned at the window, had his neighbor really stayed up there for that long? What on earth was she doing? He slipped out of bed and stuck his head out the window just to confirm it was actually her again and not someone trying to break and enter or something.
It was hard to see in the dark, but he thought he could see her blonde hair in the low light.
Not a criminal trying to steal his brand-new lightbulb then, Loren pulled his head back in and made it two steps back to his bed before a series of loud clangs rang out, and something smashed into the grate just outside his window with a groan of pain and some slurred words.
Oh, it wasn’t his neighbor, after all.
“Sparklite?” Loren said in disbelief.
“Loren?” the villain moaned pathetically.
Why did a villain know his name—and strangely enough, she sounded quite familiar.
“Uh, I think I’m obligated to call the police at this point,” Loren said incredulously.
“Don’t! Don’t call the police—It’s me—” Sparklite mumbled, “Emma—”
Emma lurched forward, perhaps to give some kind of emphasis to her demand, and placed her hand on his windowpane to brace herself—only it wasn’t even there because the window was obviously open. Loren jumped back as the villain tumbled into his bedroom, blonde hair fanning out beneath her as she lay on her side on his floor, groaning.
Oh, it was his neighbor.
“You’re my upstairs neighbor,” Loren said surprised, “you’re a villain?”
“No?” Sparklite said cagily. “Kind of?”
“Didn’t you just burn down a building a couple of hours ago?” Loren said hesitantly, “I’m pretty sure that rates more than a ‘kind of.’”
Emma curled up into a ball and groaned again.
“Um, do you need me to take you to a hospital?” Loren offered awkwardly. “You just fell down a fire escape.”
Did hospitals even help villains? He would probably need to get her to go change out of her costume first.
“I’m not hurt,” Emma mumbled. “I just feel sick.”
“You’re not going to throw up on my carpet, are—and you threw up on my carpet,” Loren sighed.
He watched her heave up what had to be some kind of curry and scrunched his face up in disgust.
“Goddammit, Sparklite,” Loren complained. “You better not blow me up or whatever it is you do. I’ll help you to the bathroom.”
“I don’t blow people up—hurk,” Emma yakked all over his carpet again.
Loren flinched at the noise.
“Stooop, my carpet is going to smell forever. I have to sleep in here!” Loren pleaded, helping her to her feet. “You call yourself a villain—keep it in you weakling! You got some on me! Gross! You really are evil!”
He helped her slump down next to his toilet with her head leaning over the bowl.
“Loren, I’m not evil…” Emma managed weakly. “I’ll clean your carpet, I promise.”
“I don’t think I can trust a villain’s word on that,” Loren groaned. “What the hell are you doing, Emma? Why did you burn down that building?”
“Because! Hurk—because…” Emma heaved, “their fucking truck—”
“I told you what happened already,” Loren interrupted, sliding down the wall to sit opposite her on the floor. “He sped through a red light; the truck driver wasn’t even responsible.”
“I know!” Emma gasped. “He was such a fucking asshole—but he shouldn’t have died.…”
“People die when they are killed, Emma,” Loren mumbled weakly. “What did you expect to happen?”
“That’s stupid…” Emma groaned, “I mean, he shouldn’t have died because he had powers—there’s no way a truck could kill him…”
Loren raised his head and frowned at her.
“He was a villain as well?” Loren murmured.
“Hero,” Emma replied and slumped back against the wall. “He was Gradient.”
That asshole was, Gradient? He was a fairly well-known hero and a member of the HQ Heroes, and he was either super strong or had super speed, but not both; nobody had figure out what was going on with that, really.
“What the hell?” Loren said incredulously. “Why was he sleeping with the enemy?”
Emma reached out to try and snag his wrist, and he pulled it out of her range.
“Loren,” Emma complained. “I’m not the enemy…”
“You threw up in my bedroom,” Loren said firmly. “You are the worst person on the entire planet and definitely the enemy.”
Emma groaned piteously.
“Why was he bumping uglies with a villainess? I mean, I know why he was doing it. You’re nothing to sneeze at, and that spandex is something special—” Loren shrugged, “but, it’s not very heroic, you know?”
Emma sniffed loudly—what a mess.
“We knew each other from before,” Emma confessed. “We had a deal not to mess with each other’s business.”
“So, he fell for the call of booty, huh?” Loren mumbled. “Corrupts even our hero’s—Alright, fine; why are you drunk?”
“Why do you think?” Emma muttered.
“Why are you drunk while in your costume, idiot,” Loren sighed. “Why not go home and get changed first; I thought you villains were supposed to be the smart ones.”
Emma wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand—ew.
“I didn’t want to go back to my apartment,” Emma admitted quietly. “Everything’s too much… he was there last night. I don’t want to think about him right now…”
Loren hummed thoughtfully; she sounded like someone who needed distracting.
“I’ll be honest, Emma-cakes; I only know about you because of the rule34,” Loren said honestly, “I know you say you’re not evil, but you’re not going to kill me once you sober up, are you?”
“I hate the internet.” Emma moaned sadly, “I’m not evil—I only steal stuff.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s a thing that evil people do,” Loren said wryly, “I might forgive you if you can steal me a new carpet?”
Emma just groaned, leaning back against the wall of the bathroom—Loren pushed himself to his feet with a grunt of effort.
“Towels are in the third drawer, have a shower, and clean yourself up,” Loren sighed, holding out his hand. “If I stay in here any longer, I’m going to start throwing up as well—totally gross, man.”
Emma took it, and he pulled her to her feet; she wobbled for a moment dangerously before managing to steady herself. Loren stepped out of the room a moment later and shut the door.
He stared at the dark puddle on his carpet bleakly.
Loren’s Apartment, 1:52 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
Loren eyed the door to the bathroom with dismay.
“You haven’t drowned in there, have you?” Loren asked loudly. “Please don’t make me look up how to hide a body—You still alive?”
“I’m still alive,” Emma called back a moment later, much more subdued.
Loren retreated after he had affirmed her status among the living and sat back down at the kitchen table, staring at the clock sullenly. How come this woman he didn’t even know was always responsible for his sleeping problems?
He banged his head against the table to try and keep himself awake, and a few minutes later, the shower door opened.
“Look, I know you’re a villain, but stealing my dirty laundry is a new low,” Loren complained. “Those were in the basket for a reason, you know?”
“Sorry,” Emma mumbled, still looking remarkably unwell. “Loren, can I stay here? I don’t want to go back to my apartment.”
Loren thought about it for all of half a second; she knew where he lived, and she lived less than ten feet from his front door; if she intended to murder him, he was a goner either way.
He was honestly getting too tired to give a shit anymore as well.
“Fine, but you’re sleeping in the spew room,” Loren said immediately, heading for the couch. “Don’t kill me in my sleep, please. I’m too beautiful to die.”
“Thanks, Loren,” Emma mumbled quietly.
Emma idled on the threshold to the room, looking like she wanted to say something.
“Go to bed, spandex girl,” Loren mumbled, face already pressed against the couch cushions. “I’m much too busy sleeping to deal with your evil nonsense.”
“I’m not evil...” Emma pouted.
Loren’s Apartment, 9:13 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
Loren cracked an eye open to identify the incessant blip noise.
His upstairs neighbor was sitting with her back against the couch, inches away from him, scrolling through her social media apps. Loren stared at her fingers as they tapped away, thoroughly annoyed. Couldn’t she turn her damn phone down? He was trying to sleep.
He gave up on pretending to be asleep after several minutes of constant blipping and instead just read her phone from his position.
“You’re awake,” Emma said suddenly.
“I can’t believe that Charles said that to Darcy.” Loren mumbled, “Who does he think he is!”
“He’s totally a dick,” Emma agreed.
“Nothing like waking up next to a beautiful woman with the lingering smell of vomit in the air,” Loren said dryly, after a moment, “I see you haven’t murdered me in my sleep as well, turning over a new leaf?”
Emma ducked her head for a moment before she spun to face him, looking both embarrassed and annoyed.
“You’re way too flippant about this.” Emma said firmly, “Why didn’t you ring the police or something?”
Loren made a gesture that might have been a shrug if he’d had the space to make it—instead, he kind of just spasmed his arm against her back ineffectively.
“You’ve had a rough week,” Loren said easily. “Just don’t burn down any more buildings, okay? If there had been people in that building, I would have tossed your pretty ass straight back out onto the fire escape. There’s enough random shit happening in this city already without you adding fuel to the uh, fire.”
“Just like that?” Emma said quietly. “You really don’t know me…”
“Why would I?” Loren said strangely.
“You’re not going to blackmail me? Extort me? Hang my secret identity over my head?” Emma asked quickly.
“I don’t care about any of that crap, and you have nothing I want that I can’t get through perfectly legal means. Thank you, miss supervillain,” Loren said honestly before glancing over her shoulder. “Oh my god!”
“What?” Emma said wildly.
Loren threw himself up off the couch, jumped over the arm before sprinting into the bathroom, and slamming the door.
“I’m going to be fucking late!” Loren yelled back from the shower. “You vile spewbeast! If I miss the first round, I’m going to throw up all over you!”
“The first round of what?” Emma asked urgently through the door. “Is this a trick so you can run off and tell somebody about me?”
“Not everything’s about you spewbeast!” Loren called out. “You’re not that hot!”
“Stop calling me spewbeast!” Emma cried indignantly. “As if you’ve never thrown up before!”
“I don’t make a habit of dressing up in spandex, breaking into other people’s apartments, and spewing all over the place!” Loren called mercilessly. “Spewbeast!”
“I already cleaned it up!” Emma complained before she banged on the door.
“Why does my apartment still smell like curry then!?” Loren said incredulously. “Do a better job!”
Loren shut the water off and dried himself off as fast as he could. He wrapped the towel around his waist and rushed past her into his bedroom.
“Ugh!” Loren flinched immediately, “cleaned it already, my ass!”
“I did,” Emma insisted quickly, following him into the bedroom.
Loren pulled some jeans on and grabbed the first clean shirt he could find, pulling it down over his head.
“Salmon?” Emma blinked. “Really?”
“Salmon’s a real man’s color,” Loren said briskly, grabbing his wallet, keys, and phone. “Besides, I don’t want to hear any fashion advice from a spewbeast, Spewbeast.”
“Stooop,” Emma moaned. “I’m freaking out here! Where are you going?”
“I’m in the damn tournament that’s happening at ten!” Loren cried. “Look it up on your phone; you’ll see me on there in about—twenty minutes?!?”
Loren’s voice squeaked as he realized just how little time he had left.
“You really aren’t going to turn me in?” Emma said weakly.
“No, dammit!” Loren called over his shoulder, “I’m locking the door from the outside! Climb out the window when you’ve finished cleaning up your mess! And don’t steal anything Spewbeast!”
“Loren,” Emma whined, but he was already gone. “I’m not a Spewbeast.”
Hi, I write on several sites under the handle of Elbowsnapper. I write novels with a focus on LitRPG, Dark Fantasy, Flawed Deductions, they are all available on Patreon. You can read the draft of my current in-progress novel as well.
Reroll, my bi-weekly released web serial now has its own page!
I spend a lot of time practicing and improving by writing fanfiction. I appreciate any support you choose to send my way but please remember that donating is completely optional. I will continue writing regardless, although the frequency at which I put out content may increase or decrease as life continues to thoroughly kick my ass.